Religious / Economic / Political Perspectives from India's capital

Special report from Delhi, India

DelhiWhile Mumbai is a center of business energy, Delhi has politics, philosophy, and intellectual questions constantly floating in the air. My friends at the Rajiv Gandhi Institute for Contemporary Studies placed me before a range of politicians, philosophers, scholars, government officials and a business man or two, to explore and exchange ideas. I have enjoyed lunch with 2 members of Parliament, Mani Shankar Aiyar, and Aneil Mathrani. Mani Shankar Aiyar’s perspective about the current economic boom in India is not as enthusiastic as the pervasive optimism in Mumbai. “The economic growth we are experiencing at the present isn’t as substantive as growth in other past years.” He said. He suspects much of the talk of India’s ‘sizzling’ economy is politically motivated. “Until economic growth translates to a real improvement in the welfare of the man on the street, it is of little value to most Indians. We have 900,000,000 people in India who aren’t participating in rewards from this ‘boom’” He said.

Aneil Mathrani, who is the Secretary for foreign Affairs of the Indian National Congress told me: “We must figure some ways of rewarding the mass of working Indians, and letting them participate tangibly in economic growth. The average worker may only make $80 per month, so what can we do to help him?” Ajay Sing, the Director of an engineering and machine company issued a similar comment. “While the economy is improved, we still struggle with issues of fairness. For example, I pay my machine tool operators about $100 per month. Economic growth doesn’t trickle down to them, because I need their low wage rates to be able to compete and maintain profitability. Thus, I often feel conflicted, knowing that these workers live in near poverty and will never come out of it, because of decisions I make for my survival.”

Thus, we see a nation where 80% of the populace has a long way to go. The national per capita income according to Bibek Dibroy is $500 per year. Yet the per capita income in modern cities like Mumbai and Delhi is much higher. On a macro-scale the proposition suggests that India, to compete in the global realm, needs a cheap labor pool. It is possible that 800,000,000 or 900,000,000 people will continue to see monthly wages of $100 or less, for years, until the nation can restructure an economy to absorb and adjust to higher living standards.

Bibek Dibroy, one of India’s intellectual giants, a genius and walking encyclopedia of India has met and worked with some of India’s finest people. People like the President, A P J Kalam, Sonia Gandhi, Milton Friedman or John Kenneth Galbreth. In two separate private meetings with members of India’s Parliament, arranged by Bibek, I’ve come to understand first hand, issues and frustrations that India’s leaders face.

Also the perspective is different in the USA and in India. Recently while on the campus of the University of Chicago, I heard about how that Milton Friedman had “re-written India’s economic system”. Here, I learned the India perspective is much different. Indian government leaders where surprised when he came to India with his “de-regulation, free markets” theory. They had requested a U.S. economist to help them create a system of new regulations. India’s government requested that the U.S. Government send him home because his philosophy and approach were not helpful or appreciated in India. Friedman was politely spirited out of the country and replaced with John Kenneth Galbreth, who then did extensive work helping develop India’s regulatory system. Galbreth a relatively young economist at the time, eventually became the U.S. Ambassador to India.

The prestigious Gandhi Institute, in New Delhi hosted an afternoon symposium with 6 leading intellectuals who had studied the book: FLOWERS FACING THE SUN.

As its author, I learned many things from the panel and the audience and enjoyed an overwhelming synthesis of acceptance and exploration. Amir Ula Khan, a Fellow at India's Development Foundation represents the intellectual leadership of economic philosophy emerging in this nation. He told the audience: "When I opened up this book, and read about the 'connected generation' it's values and ideals, I thought, 'This is me he is describing, this book is about me.'"

He then discussed the economic philosophy of requiring some 'regulation' in economic systems and the relationship to socio-economic and spiritual development. Ashok Lal, Play write, script writer, philosopher, and former corporate executive stated: "This book defines world wide trends, something huge, and I am so glad that Mr. Boothe wrote it. It is an important statement for our time." Tsering Migyur, a leader in the Tibetan community said: "Boothe defines humanity, how and why we must connect and how important this is for peace in the world."

Leaders from the Hindu, Bahai and other faiths also exchanged ideas. Dr. Akhtarul Wasey of the Zakir Husain Institute of Islamic Studies took issue with the idea that the "Global Generation" does not have the same reliance on traditional clerics and institutions as former generations.

He also expressed concern with a reference to Samuel Huntington's book: Clash of Civilizations. Several times during the symposium participants alluded to the "regression of progress" in world efforts to improve peaceful human relations and a spirit of brotherhood around the world, by military aggressive policies of the world's super powers. One joke that shook the room was: "What is the difference between the Prime Minister of India and the President of the United States?" The answer: "the Prime Minister of India speaks English".